Fictional Racing

Before we start piecing apart the elements of the narrative, I feel obligated to justify how this theory of “story” applies to something that is non-fictional. The Tour isn’t fiction: it’s a real thing that really happens. But the stories? Though they are based on an actual event, they are not exactly an under-oath testimony.

Here we have to blur the lines between fact and fiction. Putting it in the most basic clear cut terms, nothing is either totally fact (loyal, true, etc.) or totally fiction (false, lies, make-believe). We have to evaluate the degrees of pretending. As it turns out, Genette prefers to us the terms “fictional” and “factual” in order to avoid the negativity associated with “non-fiction.” Here it implies that fiction is false, where as non-fiction refers to “not false.”  John Searle would say that the fictional narrative is just the simulation of factual narrative: where the novelist “pretends” the story is true but never asks his reader to believe it.

It’s from these thoughts we find Jean-Francois Lyotard who was the first to apply Genette’s theory to newspaper articles to demonstrate journalisms ability to conquer the borders of fiction.

When we read an article, how can we decide how much is authentic and how much is make-believe? If you watched the race, you might disagree with the quantity of information given in the article. That’s to say maybe they didn’t mention a failed attack at kilometer 74 or the second natural break.

Some of the articles we will examine through the course of the TDF take the form of the historical narrative. This type of story unfolds chronologically, focused on the actual events rather than their causality. So, we would expect the historical race to happen as such: the race started, some things happened, someone won. But when evaluating articles we will find 200km colored with metaphors, a span of time and distance ignored and details missing. Does the omission of events make the narrative less authentic?

I dare to say, no. It’s all a work of fiction. That doesn’t mean that the events didn’t take place, but rather that the events can never be represented 100% purely. This is true even not taking into account subjectivity, which is a topic to be considered in some other blog. In this respect, applying narratology to any and every form of communication seems totally valid to me. I won’t really be looking to evaluate what is and what isn’t true about each story; to me it’s irrelevant. I think that it’s less important to distinguish fictional narratives from factual narratives because no narrative resides in only one of those categories.

Sometimes when I ride my bike in races, I like to write down a narrative of what happened in a first hand perspective. As true as I can. But, the criterium laps take their toll, I lose count, I forget, I exaggerate. While these narratives are about my experiences in the first person, they’re merely autobiographical and not an autobiography. They give the appearance of being what happened to me but it’s probably not at all what happened according to the casual observer.


About ashlealebrisket

living and learning and teaching in france, exploring the narratology behind cycling journalism,
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